With his appointment as Deputy Secretary in the Union Ministry of Tourism on Saturday, Shah Faesal had come full circle — the young Indian Administrative Service (IAS) official who gave up his career in a flush of idealism and took to politics “to change the political dynamics” of Kashmir, before finally returning to government service.
In the summer of 2010, amid anger in Kashmir against the government over civilian killings that had led to violent street protests, the region basked in the glory of a 26-year-old doctor from Lolab Valley in Kupwara — Faesal had become the first person from Jammu & Kashmir to top the UPSC exams and make it to the IAS.
Despite the massive public uprising against the government, the success of Faesal, the son of a school teacher who had been killed by militants, had inspired a number of youngsters who saw education and the civil services as a way out of their conflict-ridden lives. Around that time, Kashmir saw a surge in the number of youth cracking the prestigious civil services exams.
The young bureaucrat was appointed to some of the most prestigious posts in his home state, including as Deputy Commissioner, Director of School Education and Managing Director of the Jammu and Kashmir Power Development Corporation.
Eight years after joining the IAS, Faesal went to Harvard University as a Fulbright fellow. He was supposed to return to his duties in June 2019, but in January that year, while home on vacation, Faesal surprised everyone when he announced his resignation from the IAS citing “unabated killings” in Kashmir.
In March 2019, four months before the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, Faesal founded the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM), a party that promised a new political alternative to Kashmir with its “hawa badlegi (winds of change)” slogan.
Then came August 5, 2019, when the Narendra Modi-led BJP government abrogated Jammu and Kashmir’ special status and downgraded the state into two Union Territories. A day before the abrogation, the mainstream political leadership and key separatist leaders were put behind bars. Faesal, who was in Delhi, escaped that round-up, but on August 14, he was detained at the Delhi airport, while on his way to the US.
A day before his detention, Faesal had said in an interview to BBC’s Hard Talk that there were “only two types of people in Kashmir now — stooges and separatists, and I am not a stooge”.
By the time he was released from detention 10 months later, Faesal appeared a changed man. On August 9, 2020, he announced that he was quitting both politics and the party he founded.
While Faesal resigned from the IAS in January 2019, his resignation was not accepted. The government cited a pending inquiry into some of his social media posts for not accepting his resignation, thus leaving the door open for his return. In May, he returned to the bureaucracy, before being finally appointed in the Union Home Ministry on Saturday.
Earlier this year, he had said in a series of tweets, “8 months of my life (Jan 2019-Aug 2019) created so much baggage that I was almost finished. While chasing a chimera, I lost almost everything that I had built over the years. Job. Friends. Reputation. Public goodwill. But I never lost hope. My idealism had let me down.”